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Sleep And Health

by Charles Cavo, D.O.



There is no doubt that sleep is incredibly important to your health.  Did you know that people who sleep poorly are at increased risk for many chronic illnesses? Alzheimer’s dementia and obesity are at the top of the list.

Understanding how sleep impacts weight is important.  When we are sleep deprived, the hormones that regulate our appetite are disrupted.  A brain operating on too little sleep creates a feeling of starvation by increasing levels of a hormone called Ghrelin.  As Ghrelin increases, you feel hungrier. Not only does the appetite go up, but the desire to exercise goes down.  Anyone exercising regularly knows that working out after a restful night is much more productive than exercising after a poor night sleep.

What do you do if you have tried all the tricks to get a good night sleep and there are still issues?  The first line strategy would be to seek the assistance of a person who specializes in sleep before diving into the medications.  There are therapists who specialize in sleep management.  Go online and search for a CBTI therapist (cognitive behavior therapist for insomnia).  These are professionals who specialize in sleep management and have a lot to offer.

After trying to maximize the environmental and behavioral cues to improve sleep, many people turn to supplements or medications.  It is important to understand the impact these may have on sleep.

Many people will try to use alcohol to improve their sleep.  While alcohol may help people fall asleep, the quality of the sleep one achieves after consuming alcohol is significantly reduced.  Poor sleep quality will then lead to worsening feelings of fatigue. If you are having alcohol to help yourself fall asleep, you may want to reconsider this strategy.

Melatonin is a popular sleep aid that helps with the timing of sleep.  It may be especially helpful for people over the age of 50.  Melatonin may also be useful when a person is exposed to lots of artificial light as this reduces the secretion of melatonin naturally.  Lastly, being jetlagged can be a real detriment to sleep and melatonin may be a good solution to this problem.  The amount of melatonin one should take is important.  It is a good idea to start on a lower dose like 0.5mg and titrate up as needed.  It is probably not helpful nor advantageous to go above 3mg.

Medications, such as Ambien and Lunesta, are commonly prescribed for sleep.  These drugs may be helpful to “reset” a person whose sleep is way off track, but to use these medications regularly is a mistake.  The quality of sleep one gets from these medications is poor. Some concerns and possible risks related to these medications include, abusing these medications, questions about reduced immune systems with regular use, and an increased risk of mortality. The other more popular medications such as Benadryl, Tylenol PM, Xanax, Valium and THC may be helpful at getting people to sleep, but again, the quality of sleep is poor and may have the same health risks as Ambien.

The final medication/supplement worth mentioning is CBD.  The research so far on CBD being helpful with regards to sleep looks promising.  CBD (with very little THC) is effective as a sleep aid as it not only reduces anxiety, but also reduces the core body temperature.  The combination of these attributes along with the preservation of REM sleep makes CBD a reasonable choice for someone looking for a sleep aid.

Despite everything you may try to sleep better, there is a high probability that sooner or later you will have a poor night’s sleep.  Then what should you do?  Do not try to “catch up” by going to sleep earlier or by sleeping later as that may lead to sleep schedule confusion and set yourself up for even more sleep issues.  It is better to avoid naps and hold out for as long as you can, then go to sleep at your usual hour.


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